VIP — very important person — lets you create a separate group and notification priority for the contacts that matter the most to you. Sadly, it’s currently limited to Mail.
*Update: Now that Apple Watch has shipped, having VIP as a system-level feature that not only Mail but Messages, Phone, FaceTime, and even App Store communications apps can filter through feels even more essential. *
Mail’s VIP feature is great. I can “star” the people most important to me, thus enabling sound, vibration, and Lock screen notifications solely for them. It’s a great way to make sure I’m alerted when I get email that matters, and avoid being interrupted when it doesn’t. Sadly, VIP currently only exists as a feature in the Mail app. There’s no way to do the same for Messages or any other communication app I have installed.
For iOS 9, I’d love to see VIP moved from Mail’s settings to the system level for Contacts proper, so that I can make sure the people who are literally “very important” get through more easily, no matter how they choose to communicate with me.
The line between notification and interruption is fuzzy. To paraphrase a line from The Incredibles, when everything is special, nothing is. When everything gets our attention, we lose the ability to focus. That’s why, right now, my iPhone and iPad only beep or buzz when a VIP Mail comes in. That way, I can be reasonably certain that if they do beep or buzz, it’s because something really does need my attention, and in short order.
Messages, in contrast, has no VIP setting, making notifications all or nothing. And since my friends, family, and and colleagues use iMessage and SMS to contact me when things are urgent or they need to make sure I see something, I can’t turn those notifications off — it has to default to all. That means, when I get spam messages, including the ones from my carrier, they’re going to clutter my Lock screen.
If the VIP feature was system-wide and lived in Contacts instead of Mail, those settings could also apply to Messages and FaceTime. Since Contacts includes social profiles, it could possibly even apply to Twitter DMs or Facebook Messages. In an ideal world, once I set a contact as a VIP, they could contact me using any method available to them and I’d be able to see their message without also having to tune into the notifications firehose.
Phone Favorites could also be folded into VIP. Right now, they’re separate lists and, unlike VIP, they don’t sync with iCloud. As such, every time I change to a new iPhone or set my device up as new, those Favorites are wiped out. VIPs wouldn’t be. (Update: So could Apple Watch Friends, especially if Friends could be made to scale.)
Phone favorites currently can be set to punch through Do Not Disturb, allowing me to make sure that, if I so choose, I don’t miss an important call. It’d be just as useful if I could designate anything from that contact as important, so I don’t miss messages or email from them, either.
Overall, VIP moving from a Mail feature to a system-level feature for all contacts in all apps feels like not only a more functional solution, but a more consistent one. And that’s why I’d love to see it in iOS 9.
Originally published December 10, 2014. Updated for Apple Watch. We’ve filed this as a feature request with Apple’s bug reporter: rdar://19198048.